chastain bulldog

Ricky Chastain, owner of Chastain Associates insurance, poses with the bulldog statue stolen from outside of the Chastain Building on Hancock Avenue.

Home of the Georgia Bulldogs, Athens pays homage to its sports team in numerous ways. One way businesses do so is through the dog statues scattered around town. Recently, though, the statues have become a target of thieves.

Two well-known statues — stationed at Steak N’ Shake on West Broad Street and Chastain & Associates Insurance on West Hancock Avenue — were stolen in August.

The statues originally came about in 2003 as part of the “We Let the Dawgs Out” public art exhibit installed by the Athens-Oconee Junior Women’s Club. Local artists painted three-dozen statues between 2003 and its end in 2010. Over the years, more statues have been added.

The first target, the statue from Steak N’ Shake, was stolen between Aug. 12-13, according to an Athens-Clarke County Police Department incident report. A Steak N’ Shake manager called police on Sept. 6 to report the theft.

According to the police report, the statue was bolted to concrete with four metal brackets. No surveillance cameras captured the theft.

Manager Dawn Mccullough thinks the crime was intended to be a practical joke, theorizing that the statue is sitting in someone’s dorm room, or potentially a fraternity house. McCullough added that it seems a hefty price to pay, considering she thinks “they would lose their college career and all that for stealing the dog.”

The second statue, called “Downtown Dawg,” was taken from the Chastain Building. The statue, which was stolen on Sept. 7, has since been returned, owner and operator Ricky Chastain said. According to the report, the metal brackets “were tampered with and bent.” Chastain said he last saw the statue at the end of the same week.

Chastain received a call from a group of people who said they had the statue on Sept. 20. They agreed on a meeting time where Chastain said he wanted to talk to each party involved, although he told them he wouldn’t press charges.

When the time to meet arrived, the callers contacted Chastain again. They told him their home had been raided and the police wouldn’t let them leave. Chastain talked to the officers and informed them he would not be pressing charges if the statue was returned to him.

The statue has been returned, although it suffered minimal damage to one of its legs. Chastain said the statue will be back in its spot by next week.

“It was just a prank and everybody’s fine,” he said.

He says the group of people who took the statue from outside his insurance company’s building was not connected to the other statue stolen from Steak N’ Shake.

As for Steak N’ Shake, they are offering a reward for the statue’s return. McCullough said the restaurant is offering one free combo meal each week for a year as a reward.

Next on the hit list

Other Athens businesses have taken notice of the crimes. Some are concerned they may be next. The Cookout near Steak N’ Shake on Broad Street has been on high alert, though employees said they are not taking it too seriously.

“We joke around and say that we’re next. If that happens, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” manager-in-training Keandra Barnes said.

Businesses like DeVore & Johnson already have preventative measures in place. According to showroom consultant Mandy Wilkins, their Bulldog statue was installed in cement. The business knew when it acquired the statue that it would be a hit among locals, so it wanted to ensure it remained safe and secure in the ground.

Bulldog Laundry also has a statue at their storefront that owner Jon Mantooth says is a “pillar” of the business. Mantooth said the people responsible for the crimes should consider the effects of their actions as they’re “messing with a tradition in Athens and taking something that doesn’t belong to [them].”